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MAHONING VALLEY GAS WELLS Drilling pollution is rare



Published: Sun, July 21, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Most of the area has already been drilled for oil and gas.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

Water pollution from the more than 9,000 registered gas wells spread nearly uniformly throughout Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties is not unheard of, but it is rare.

Gas and oil are extracted from beneath farms and fields throughout the Mahoning Valley, under residential neighborhoods in Youngstown and Boardman, under Mill Creek and Idora parks, around Meander Reservoir and beneath Berlin Reservoir.

Last year, six new wells were drilled under Mosquito Lake, despite opposition from local elected officials.

"I'm not going against oil and gas drilling," said Melissa Long, the mayor of Cortland. "But you have to worry about the safety of our lake and the drinking water system." Mosquito Lake, bordered on the east by Cortland and the west by Bazetta Township, is a major boating and fishing site and is the drinking water source for Warren and parts of Bazetta and Howland townships.

A rare occurrence

Contamination from gas wells is rare, however, said Jonnie Patrick, an inspector with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Resources Management.

The mechanics of gas wells work against groundwater contamination. To get at the gas under a park or reservoir, well drillers often locate the top of the well on private property nearby and use equipment that lets them reach the well at a slight slant, said Dick Heldman, president of Asset Management of Ravenna, which manages 502 wells in Trumbull and Mahoning counties.

Deep drilling

In this area, gas and oil are drawn primarily from a layer of rock 4,900 to 5,000 feet beneath the ground, but local lakes at their deepest might be 50 feet.

If salt water, which is used in the drilling process, or oil or gas were to escape from the area being drilled, it would come up the well bore, rather than through the mile or so of dirt and rock.

There have been no problems so far at Mosquito Lake, officials say.

Water wells

Another worry is that gas drilling could contaminate the water table and get into fresh-water wells.

Around here, water wells are drilled from 225 to 275 feet deep, Patrick said. An additional casing is required around the well pipes where they pass through the water table, and it is sealed when the well is closed.

In 16 years investigating complaints and issuing permits for wells in northeast Ohio, Patrick says he has been called many times by homeowners who think a gas well is to blame for their bad water or foul pond.

Only once was a gas well actually proved to be the culprit, he said.

"It just doesn't happen that often," said Patrick, the sole inspector for Columbiana and Mahoning counties. His territory will expand Aug. 1 to include Trumbull County.

The Vindicator broke the story Tuesday of one such episode at the Bazetta home of Dorelina and Lee Somerville, where a Hartville company drilled a gas/oil well.

The couple's water well was fouled and all the fish in their pond died.

County officials and the company responded the next day and are working to correct the situation.

When wells do pollute, the problem is often caused by a drilling company poorly that disposes of dirt pulled up when it digs the mile-deep hole, he said.

Wells must be inspected when they are drilled, then when they are closed up years later.

Frequent visits

Productive wells are visited frequently by the company that runs them, Heldman said. If there is a gas leak or a problem in the well, pressure readings or production charts will show it.

Heldman said wells run by his company, including four that angle under Mahoning Valley Sanitary District property, are visited every day. MVSD supplies water to some 300,000 customers from Meander Reservoir.

But, why drill under parks and lakes at all?

Because, over the years, almost all the rest of the Mahoning Valley has been drilled. Most wells produce for about 30 years.

siff@vindy.com




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